Please tell us about yourself

Aarti completed her Bachelors (Double major) in Life sciences and Biochemistry from St. Xavier’s college in Mumbai, India (2006), followed by a Masters in Biochemistry from the University of Mumbai, India (2008). She then received a Masters in Bioinformatics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2010), for which she worked on genome assembly and built bioinformatics pipelines for a sociogenomics project designed to understand the evolution of social behaviour in bees. Aarti then worked with Molly Przeworski at the University of Chicago before beginning the PhD program in human genetics and joining the Thornton lab.

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Tell us about your work

One of the interesting questions in biology is the evolution of blue eye color. Most mammals have brown or dark-pigment irises, but blue eyes are known to be found in only three primate species: humans, rhesus macaques and lemurs, said Aarti Venkat, a computer analyst at Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“To investigate if the evolution of blue eye color has a similar genetic basis, we need to compare relevant genes. Since no comprehensive genomic resources are available for blue-eyed lemurs, I have been involved in designing the sequencing project for the lemur genome,” she said.

One of the main goals of Aarti’s laboratory is to understand the cause of inter and intra species genomic variation and how the forces of selection, drift, mutation and recombination interact to give rise to these heritable differences.

What are skills needed for a career in Bioinformatics?

She said that to be a good bioinformatician, one should be a good biologist to begin with. She arrived at the University of Illinois to pursue a master’s degree in bioinformatics from India with a background in life sciences and biochemistry. However, Aarti soon discovered that U of I would provide much more than an academic home.

How was the experience at Illinois?

“I never missed my home in India only, because U of I gave me a home through its atmosphere of warmth, hope and friendliness,” she said. “And, yes, I did learn in the process, but I value the evolution of my personality and relationships at the U of I much more than the master’s degree I received.”